After relieving myself, I turned toward the men’s bathroom mirror to find the sink being shared with same performer who minutes ago was about to have his body split apart by four motorcycles. Gustavo was slowly and calmly washing the mud off his lithe body.
On that drizzly evening in Houston’s downtown warehouse district, the streets were being repaved, construction materials and its detritus was lying about with a thin layer of mud on new concrete. A perfect site for an outdoor performance.
As the four motorbikes started their engines, emerging from the exhaust, Gustavo, wearing only underwear, crawled on his knees and elbows to approach each vehicle from the rear tire. His foot or hand would slide between the tire and back bumper, at once caressing, penetrating and then retracting. Think of the animal tamer placing his head in the lion’s open gape. After each bike was sufficiently tested or taunted, Chantal Wallace would rope bind his folded limbs to prevent them from unflexing. His bounded joints were tethered to the backseats. Engines revved to a deafening roar. Riders inched their bikes to pull the ropes taut. With the engines roaring, this horsed-powered “pride” ran the real risk of quartering our performer. To this writer, it was the highlight of Experimental Action Houston 2019. Seré millones, by Gustavo Solar, February 2019.
I met with Gustavo a few days to later at his hostel. Our conversation meandered through a philosophical inquiry of his practice and his thoughts of what performance art can do and become. What emerges is a thoughtful, articulate artist concerned with the intellectual framework of his pieces, in tune with himself physiologically and ideologically, whose forward looking perspective invites and creates a vision of where performance can play a more central role in the arts of South America.
The following is an edited English translation, of our 45 minute interview.
Henry G. Sanchez (HS): Do you consider yourself a lion tamer?
Gustavo Solar (GS): What I'm a tamer?
HS: At your performance on Friday one of the things I noticed is that after they untied you, that you put your hand and foot between the rim, the wheel and the bumper. It seemed as if you made the gesture like the lion tamer, the tamer of animals…
GS: Oh but, the machines...
HS: Yeah, but you're a machine tamer.
GS: Yeah, yeah, I feel the same but, you know, I prefer to call myself, that is, think in the figure of a hacker, do you know?
HS: No. A hacker?
GS: Hacker, people who... People who know the commands of computers, the internet...
HS: Ok... Oh, good to know this, a hacker!
GS: Yeah, I think it's more propitious let's say, and more accurate, because there's a kind of intention to tame, say, but with knowledge, you know? As there is one, there is a question of power, it's about power, but also it's about knowledge, it's about hope to do it. You know? And, in this case it`s not about... It's not about doing it in a traditional, classic way, it's about taking other roads, other roads...
But also I think it's very important for me to have that kind of relationship with the, with materials, you know, that kind of contact. But, also a big reason, of wanting some kind of equality there... with modern things... - A kind of reinvention of the values or rebuilding of the values there.
HS: Ok, but you use machines in your performances. Cars, motorcycles, why not a computer? And for that matter why not a lawnmower?
GS: Yes, I'm very interested in these fetishes, in these objects as fetish, right?
HS: It's because the machines have a dangerous element...
GS: Yes, but also destructive, say for instance, it could be guns, weapons, but also they are erotic for us... so, it has this double sense, with more meanings, you know? I love to place myself this between. Between all these meanings, you can have some space there, and be there watching the senses and meanings of these fetishes, and I think with the car, the motorcycle. What is it like on the road, they are our modern fetishes, they are like our manifesto.
And, it is also very important for me for example the verisimilitude, how do you say this in English?
GS: Yeah, that's the reason maybe because I use machines, because they're like fake, they're artificial but also they are like living in a way, like breathing, like “vroom-vroom”, like doing something, like a drone. A drone is like, maybe like a bird, you know?
HS: It has this sense that there are two machines, one is the creators of machines, it is an extension of a person, do you understand? But maybe there another leg, or it's like a horse and rider, it's one, but half is an animal.
GS: And it's popular consumption right?
HS: When you started as an artist, did you start as a performance artist?
GS: Yeah, it was very like, natural to me, because when I was...
HS: You were not painting first?
GS: No, I was, I did this, in parallel. Because in my college it was about painting, drawing, about fine arts, right? But I always had the intuition with my body. I just went to the University.
HS: You just knew, this...
GS: Sure, I mean, I have 10 years doing this, 10 years is a lot. So I took a workshop, I remember, in an occupation with anarchist people, there I had a teacher there called Gonzalo Rabanal...
HS: And he is one of the leaders of the protest occupation?
GS: No, no, no, he is a performance artist also, but he was on a patriotic front against the dictatorship. He was like a guerrilla. That was very important because...I give credit to the